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‘No immediate prospect’ of widespread Covid-19 testing for healthcare workers, NHS chief says

THE government came under increasing pressure over Covid-19 testing today as Britain experienced its biggest day-on-day rise in deaths so far.

Some 2,352 patients have died in hospital after testing positive for the virus as of 5pm on Tuesday, the Department of Health said.

This figure is up by 563 from 1,789 the day before.

Just 2,000 front-line NHS England staff have been tested for coronavirus so far, Downing Street revealed.

This amounts to 0.17 per cent of 1.2 million people in total who work for NHS England.

The government had vowed more than two weeks ago that the number of tests would increase to hundreds of thousands per day while priority testing for healthcare staff would be rolled out.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers which represents NHS trusts, said that maximum testing capacity in general is “very constrained” at around 13,000 tests per day.

He said that there is “no immediate prospect” of NHS staff being tested en masse for the coronavirus.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove said on Tuesday that a shortage of chemical reagents needed for testing was a “critical constraint.”

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Germany are testing half a million people a week, yet we still haven’t hit the 10,000 a day Prime Minister [Boris Johnson] promised.

“NHS staff are rightly asking if we’ve left it too late to buy the kits and chemicals we need, or whether our lab capacity is too overstretched after years of tight budgets.”

British Medical Association council chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said that many doctors “still have no idea” about when they will be tested.

He argued that widespread testing “needs to happen urgently” to curb staff shortages and to provide them with clarity.

Mr Nagpaul said: “A significant proportion of doctors and healthcare workers being off work self-isolating — many of whom could return to work if tested negative — at a time when the NHS is all hands on deck to face this unprecedented health crisis.”

Housing and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said that the government expects that the maximum capacity of 13,000 tests would be increased by 2,000 “within a couple of days.”

It is expected to increase to 25,000 by the “middle of April,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis said last week that there would be “hundreds of thousands of tests” per day within the next few weeks.

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